Stu Thomson, founder of MTBCut and CutMedia, has been a professional videographer since 2006 and is responsible for producing some of the most watched and award-winning action sports videos ever made.
We took some time out with Stu to see what the winning formula is to creating a hit video. If you’re a budding videographer or you want some tips on planning and shooting your own bike video, read on…
You might be wondering whether you need the latest, most expensive cameras and equipment to produce good looking video, but that’s not always the case. “It depends if you want to do it as a hobby or professionally. I’m a real believer that anyone can get into film making with the most basic equipment,” Stu says.
“The quality of picture out of an iPhone is amazing so anyone can begin with one of those. You can pick up a DSLR camera and lens really cheaply these days so that can sort the equipment side of things (although audio is pretty rough on them). Don’t underestimate the value of a good lens though as glass is equally (if not more) important as the camera.
Other than that though, just think over the shots, not many things can beat a well composed static tripod shot. You can also add a little camera movement fairly easily, some basic sliders or mini jibs are not too costly to pick up.
“Professionally it’s a little different, there is a lot of expensive equipment you can get but for me it has been a case of gradually building that up over the years to the point where we have a great choice.
You definitely don’t need every piece of camera equipment under the sun to get started with your own video productions!
“Everyone starts somewhere though and I certainly began by making films for friends businesses for not a lot of money and grew the quality, equipment and experience from there!”
So, you’ve got some equipment and now it’s time to plan your shoot – what do you do, turn up and hope everything turns out ok?
“In general, the more planning time and thought that goes into a shoot the better it works out however that said there are few things as much fun as picking up the camera and filming friends riding bikes!
“With a riding edit it’s often harder to plan as there are so many variables with the weather, trail, rider etc, however it is still good to have an idea of what you want to come up with in the end.
“More recently I’ve been working on some pretty big shoots such as a new film with Danny MacAskill or our recent film with Sir Chris Hoy. The pre-production process in these is long and everything is planned out in detail. This is to make sure both ourselves, our clients and any agencies are all on the same page of what is expected from the end product. Particularly with the film we did with Chris as we only had around 6-7 hours with him so the shoot had to go super efficiently!”
Preparing for a shoot will ensure less trail time wasted, but it does depend on the nature of the project you’re working on. “Everything we work on is planned, discussed and often storyboarded. However if you’re just going to film some friends riding bikes for fun don’t get too wrapped up in it!
“An equipment check is a must though, there is nothing worse than going out filming to discover you have a flat battery/wrong lens/no tripod plate/no microphone…The list goes on!”
Stu on location with Danny MacAskill doing what he does best…
You’ve produced a video, now what’s the best way to promote it?
“That’s a tough one as it’s only getting harder with the influx of web videos. Basically just send it to everyone you know – friends, colleagues and websites.
“If you’re looking to make films professionally then it’s important to get good numbers on your films but it is more important that the right people see your work.”
“You have to be creative, stand out from the rest and have something that others can’t offer.”
Whether you’ve been producing video for years or are relatively fresh to the scene, the idea of becoming a full-time action sports videographer is an attractive one to many people, but it’s not an easy industry to break into.
“It’s tough these days as there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing. I’d say that it’s most important to promote your work well; if your work is of a very high quality, you perform it in a professional manner and it gets in front of the right people then you will succeed.
Six years, hundreds of memory cards packed with hours of footage from around the world and too many late nights to keep count of – but what’s the best video Stu’s been involved with?
“Undoubtedly it is Industrial Revolutions with Danny MacAskill, both because of the process of making it and the success it has had. Danny is a very close friend of mine and we created that film to a mega tight deadline.
“Myself, Danny and another friend, Nash, lived in a Travelodge room for a week. It was chaos. We filmed from sunrise to sunset every day and then I edited at night. We were all knackered at the end of it and poor Danny had worn and ridden in the same T-shirt every day for seven days without washing it. I wouldn’t swap it for anything though; it was an amazing, fun and hugely satisfying experience. The fact that the film has now won so many awards and had so many hits just adds to it as well.”
And Stu’s favourite video that someone else has produced?
“Off the top of my head I’d probably say a short film called ‘Darkside of the Lens’ by a surf film maker called Mickey Smith:
There are so many incredible film makers out there though it is hard to pin point just one. I’m a huge fan of the film maker Joe Simon as well, his BMX films are unreal!”
• Take your time and think about your shot.You’re far better having one amazing shot than 10 you can’t use in the edit!
• Keep it stable: shaky hand held footage is one of the most common mistakes, especially on DSLRs as they are awkward to use handheld. If you’re into filming then buy a tripod, you can pick up a basic one for next to nothing!
• Check your equipment: lack of planning can wreck a shoot. Check everything is charged and packed well before you leave for filming.
• Stand out from the rest and produce something that others can’t offer.
• Promote your work well – big hits are good, but getting it seen by the right people is better.